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Fyre Festival: The Consequences of Influencer Culture and Disastrous Event Planning

Many people online are currently talking about Fyre Festival, the disastrous “luxury” music festival that left attendees stranded on a Bahamian island, after two documentaries, one from Netflix and one from Hulu, came out this past week.

Fyre Festival was intended to be a luxury music festival that took place in the spring of 2017 held on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas to promote a talent booking app called Fyre. The app start-up and festival were founded by Billy McFarland, a young New York entrepreneur turned fraud who is currently serving a six-year federal prison sentence for his crimes related to Fyre Festival.

The Netflix documentary is aptly titled Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. The idea of Fyre Festival was based on the premise of offering a more luxurious, island version of Coachella to rich kids chasing the influencer lifestyle. The idea was excellent. Influencer marketing has taken over within the past five years due to the prominence of social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube, that make it easy to include brand sponsored or paid content.

Fyre was smart at first; they used the most popular influencers, models, and celebrities like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner to market to “clout chasers” online and it worked. But Fyre did not deliver and put many naive festival goers and Fyre employees and workers at risk.

The promotional videos and social content they used to create the Fyre Festival brand were not even close to the reality of what they could deliver. The travel and lodging packages offered online were complete lies. Even crucial amenities like food, water and bathrooms were under-provided. It became clear McFarland could barely afford to throw the festival, and he realized this as costs and problems continued to grow. Instead of heeding warnings by his staff about the mistakes they were making, McFarland misled investors and committed wire fraud, hoping to throw money he did not have at these gigantic oversights days leading up to the festival. They could not even afford the talent they booked, let alone set up stages and equipment or the housing that they promised ticket buyers and influencers, some of whom were invited to the event for free.

The aftermath of Fyre Festival left many feeling scammed. Festival goers lost thousands on what was supposed to be a fun trip. Local island workers who set up the meager tents and provided food when Fyre could not were never paid for their work. All Fyre employees lost their jobs. McFarland was investigated by the FBI and found guilty of fraud in his business decisions. Ja Rule, rapper and business partner to McFarland, was also sued for $100 million in class action lawsuits.

The same influencers who had promoted the festival, posting orange Fyre tiles on their Instagrams (Jenner was paid $250K for a single post) to promote to their millions of followers months prior, needed to apologize. Much of the public felt they were just as guilty for blindly promoting a festival that seemed impossible from the get-go, especially when they did not disclose that their postings were paid advertisements.

Fyre Festival’s use of social media and influencer marketing actually changed how paid content and sponsorship is identified on social platforms. It is now required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that #Ad or “Promotion”, “Sponsored” or “Paid ad” be used by influencers when they have been compensated to make a post.

So what can we learn from such a horrendous event? First off, we must recognize how successful Fyre’s use of influencers and social media was. In the end, the audience and employees were taken advantage of, but they created the brand and engagement they sought after. Their success in this proves how obsessed online users have become with influencer and celebrity culture. Everyone seems to be chasing the appearance of the perfect luxury lifestyle, despite all the red flags that came with Fyre’s promotion. Fyre’s website lacked specific details about the amenities and travel plans and any negative comments on their Instagram were immediately deleted - but people went anyway, hoping their Instagram account would soon look like that of Bella Hadid. This leads to the bigger issue of consumers being disillusioned by social media. The truth is everything posted by major influencers is selling a very specific image and consumers are not analyzing its effect on their own decision making and values. Whatever is popular on social media becomes what they desire when in many cases it is a structured fantasy.

Social media users and brands alike trying to engage with influencer culture should have more awareness of this phenomenon. Yes, it may make for great advertising, but Fyre Festival proves it can be harmful in reality.

Lastly, we can learn from Fyre’s awful event-planning and budgeting. Rule of thumb: do not plan an event when you have no experience and cannot pay for it and expect your attendees to be content with the results. This seems pretty obvious but McFarland was clearly in over his head and knew nothing about what goes into planning a music festival. In the process, he took advantage of his employees and took them down with him, and also acted completely unethically. He lied and committed fraud by convincing his organizers that things were okay when they tried to address the company’s many mishaps while knowing they could not possibly pull it off as they intended.

The disaster that was Fyre Festival should be a lesson to us all when it comes to bad event planning, but it should also raise alarms about how we use utilize and view influencers and social media. Since Fyre Festival, there have been other failed influencer-based events. In June of 2018, TanaCon was held, a YouTuber convention hosted by Tana Mongeau, a 19-year-old YouTube star who wanted to create a rival convention to VidCon, the largest annual YouTube convention in California, after being mistreated by the organizers. Once again, poor event planning, lack of funds, and unethical decision-making led to failure when hundreds of teens were left sunburned in a parking lot for hours because the hotel could not hold all of the ticket buyers. So have we learned anything from Fyre Festival? Only time will tell if influencers and their event planning counterparts will realize their responsibility to uphold their advertised promises.

This blog post was written by Olivia Rotondo, Vice President.

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